Michael White’s classical news: Ring Cycle; HMS Pinafore; Proms

Thursday, 4th August — By Michael White

Arcola Ring Cycle

Brush up on your Wagner this weekend at the Arcola Theatre

JUST as everybody should, at some point in their lives, ride on a roller-coaster, climb a mountain and try Marmite, everybody should experience Wagner’s Ring Cycle. At least once. And I know it isn’t easy. The most massive and extravagant thing opera has to offer, it’s a challenge – and, spread over four nights, a decidedly long sit.
But some years ago, the composer Jonathan Dove and stage director Graham Vick had the audacious idea of bringing the Ring down to size – filleted into what was jokingly called The Ringlet. With a small orchestra, fewer characters and reduced running time, it turned out to be a brilliant success – and an ideal, near pain-free way for newcomers to ease themselves into the magnificence of Wagner’s visionary score.

Last year Hackney Empire staged the second part of this Ringlet Cycle, The Valkyrie, and did it so well that I can only recommend the next two instalments which come this weekend, August 6-7. Siegfried plays both days at 3.30pm, Gotterdammerung likewise at 7.30pm. Drop all plans and go. And while you’re there, take note of the fact that it’s all part of the current Grimeborn Festival of opera which plays, mostly, at Dalston’s Arcola Theatre.
Upcoming shows include The Boatswain’s Mate by Ethel Smyth, a composer back on the music agenda with a vengeance after years of neglect (you may have seen her The Wreckers at the Proms last week). Runs Aug 6-7. Full details: arcolatheatre.com/grimeborn

On the other side of town, Opera Holland Park is in party mode with Gilbert & Sullivan’s HMS Pinafore: a production that both stars and is directed by John Savournin who’s become the leading light of G&S these days. No doubt he’ll be more comfortable in his own show than he was in the lamentable ENO staging he got drawn into not so long ago. That one was a flop. This one will almost certainly fly. August 9-13. Operahollandpark.com

• Meanwhile, the Proms soldier on, with the suddenly very visible Semyon Bychkov conducting the BBCSO and keyboard legends the Labeque Sisters (one of them is his wife) in Martinu’s Concerto for Two Pianos. Also on that August 5 programme is the delayed premiere of Julian Anderson’s new 2nd Symphony, inspired by old photos of bygone Prague. Otherwise it’s a week of Northern visitors, with Norwegian pianist Leif Ove Andsnes leading the Mahler Chamber Orchestra in two Sunday concerts – afternoon and evening August 7 – of Mozart piano concertos. August 11 has a new work by Icelandic composer Anna Thorvaldsdottir in what will presumably be her established glacial manner: slow, reflective, haunting. Then August 12 brings more Norwegians, with the Oslo Philharmonic and their Finnish conductor Klaus Makela – perhaps the hottest young conducting talent of today, still only 26 but rising like a meteor through the established ranks. He shares the platform with the dazzling Yuja Wang in Liszt’s 1st Piano Concerto. Expect fireworks. All Proms details at bbc.co.uk/proms – and don’t forget, everything can be heard live on Radio 3 – with selected concerts recorded for later transmission on BBCTV.

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